A couple of weeks back Mitch and I took a quick four hour drive up to the Idaho/Montana border where we met Chris and Troy to do some riding at the Lost Trail Bike Fest. The LTBF is still in its infancy, this year being the second annual occurrence of the event. Jointly organized by Bitterroot Backcountry Cyclistand the Salmon Idaho Mountain Bike Association (SIMBA), the festival is based at the Lost Trail Powder Mountain ski area which is nearly an hour either way north of Salmon, ID or south from Hamilton, MT.
- Lost Trail Powder Mountain, which opened in 1938, straddles the state line and actually has lifts and ski runs in both states.
- Their Saddle Mountain lift, the longest of the five doubles on site, was once named Bannock and located at Grand Targhee Resort.
- Earlier this summer a WWII era aircraft crashed and burned in the parking lot, killing the pilot and nearly striking a visitor as he was driving away.
Even in the winter, Lost Trail doesn’t have much going on. It’s basically only open on the weekends, there is no lodging, and the only food on site is a snack shack inside the main lodge building. The summers there are even quieter. With everything shut down except for the parking lot and public restrooms, the place is literally transformed into a rest area for travelers heading over the pass. That is until the first weekend of September when the LTBF takes place.
After having just spent the previous weekend attending the Wydaho Rendezvous Mountain Bike Festival at Grand Targhee, I must say the LTBF is pretty low key in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, this was not a bad thing. No vendors, no demos, no restaurants, no lifts, no frills. Just a bunch of people camping out and mountain biking backcountry singletrack. Think grass roots.
From the FAQ page on the LTBF site:
What if I wreck?
Don’t, but if you do and are not injured you will have to walk out. If you are injured, we will have Search and Rescue and others help you, but it could be a long wait and/or trip out.
Saturday morning, the four of us scarfed down some breakfast and coffee and started the pedal up the mountain from the lodge. Most of the six or so ride options started off with the same four mile long, 1000′ climb up a two-track. From there we descended the first part of Warm Springs Ridge to Shields Creek, a narrow, faint, and fading singletrack that drops into an area recovering from a recent wildfire. It didn’t take long before I realized I was going to need to be wide awake for this one. It was so narrow and loose that it only took an inch of miscorrection to find yourself off the trail altogether. At times it disappeared completely so that you just had to trust you were still going in the right direction. Sections would misleadingly open up just before surprise hairpins or scree fields.
After a couple of steep, technical descents full of tight switchbacks, we were were greeted by a nasty climb up a scree field. Turns out this is a great place for a pit stop with some amazing views and or photo ops. Just below the trail, Overwhich Falls cascades another 200′ down into the canyon.
Once we got the hike-a-bike out of the way, it was game on. The next 6 miles were awesome. The trail got wider and worked its way down a ridge line, twisting and turning in all the right places. There were just enough rocks and root drops to keep things interesting without slowing you down. The end of the ridge abruptly dropped off into Warm Springs Creek at which point the trail took us down a series of long, fast straightaways broken up by more of those tight switchbacks. The rest of the ride followed the drainage at a quick clip through some tech XC terrain, depositing us onto a slightly downhill forest road and another four miles of riding back to the highway.
I think I forgot to mention this but the full name of this event is actually “Lost Trail Bike Fest & Shuttle Extravaganza”. The very last part being super important b/c the rides leaves you 15 miles and 3000′ down the pass from where you started. I don’t want to speak for everyone but you probably won’t want to make that climb after just having ridden 24 miles of extremely rugged trail with nearly 2000′ of climbing on it’s own.
So yeah, they had a fleet of volunteers driving vans and Suburbans with racked trailers to take the riders and their bikes back up the hill every 30 minutes and one was waiting just for us as we reached the highway. We caught a ride back up the hill, had a quick lunch break, and got back on the bikes for another lap. Before that first lap, I looked at the ride profiles and assumed we’d be able to get at least three rides in, maybe four. It quickly became apparent that the second would be our final. The road climb from the ski area felt longer and steeper than it had the first time. My legs were heavier. Everyone seemed to be a little slower. Well, except for Troy that is, who had somehow managed to find an even higher gear. We found out later that most people only ride one lap, very few go for a second, and almost no one does a third.
The second time around we opted to stay on Warm Springs Ridge. Overall, this trail was faster, more open, and had more flow. There was a short climb from the Shields Creek junction and then a downhill that just kept going and had us all grinning from ear to ear. This was followed by a couple of tough climbs to get out of the drainage and back onto the ridge. Then a ridiculously scenic traverse above the treeline which dropped into another awesome downhill. This section reminded me of the first descent on Red Creek in the Big Holes where the trail is wide and a little v’ed and you just bounce from side to side at full speed. Only this was easily three to four times as long.
At the next junction we ran into a group of riders from Missoula who we had seen earlier that day and also the previous weekend at the Wydaho. Having ridden these trails before, they gave us some beta on the Fire Creek descent. We all agreed this sounded like a fun option so turned off of the ridge and headed down. The next six miles were full of high speed straightaways and the tightest switchbacks we had seen yet. Most of these turns required some heavy handed rear wheel braking and/or front wheel pivots to get the rear end of the bike around. This route took us back to the Warm Springs Creek trail and the four mile forest road ride to the highway.
We caught the next shuttle back up to Lost Trail just in time for dinner and the evening activities. In addition to live music from a couple of local Montana bands, there was beer from Bitterroot Brewing in Hamilton (a great place for a beverage and some live music if you happen to be passing through), and a backyard style grill out with [veggie!] burgers, brats, and all of the usual side dishes. There was plenty of food to go around. I ate more than enough to make up for riding nearly 50 miles on only Cliff Bars, Gu Energy Gels, and fruit & nuts.
We stayed for a couple beers and to listen to the music for a while but had to get back down the pass early enough for a soak at the Lost Trail Hot Springs Resort. In addition to the pool, hot tub, and sauna, the “resort” includes a bar & restaurant, and some very overpriced, rustic lodging. While it may not warrant a trip on its own, it’s definitely worth a stop if you’re already in the area. Especially after a long day of riding Lost Trail Pass.
If your’e looking for an adventure, this area offers just that. Find out for yourself at next year’s Lost Trail Bike Fest.
Here are some more photos I took on our rides: